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Parakeet Breeding & Hatchlings: A Photo Story

 

Watching from the highest perch in the cage, Azul and Antoinette stare at me with their tiny little eyes. A few years ago I got my first bird with my boyfriend Daniel Clark. Azul, is a parakeet with brilliant light aqua to dark blue feathers on his chest and tail, with black and white wings. 

In spring of 2013, we bought Antoinette, an English Budgie, from what I can tell from my book about parakeets. Always very loud and aggressive, this female bird was just what we needed to have baby birds.

In order for Azul and Antoinette to mate they first needed to become bonded, a process which took about a year. Last fall we started to see the signs of a bonded pair, standing together on their perches, regurgitating food to each other and preening the their mates feathers.

So this spring we attached a nest box to the outside of the cage over a cage door and waited. 

Once the nest box was in place I would check periodically never knowing when the day would come. When it did on April 3rd I was shocked. I jokingly said to the birds as I lifted the top of the nest box up, “Any babies in here?” I never expected there actually would be eggs but an even bigger surprise was that I found not one but three eggs! So small and delicate looking the three eggs were arranged together in the farthest, darkest corner of the box. 

It was three days before the next egg was laid. Every two or three days following that Antoinette laid another egg. In total she laid nine eggs, though the ninth egg was never spotted until after the other eggs had hatches.

Out of the nine eggs that were laid, only seven eggs were fertilized and five of those hatched. I could tell the two eggs, including the one not spotted for a few weeks, were unfertilized because when held up to a light, it was empty inside, allowing it to have a yellow glow. This glowing egg was quite different from the next egg Daniel and I picked up which was moving inside! It was quite incredible to see. It was not moving quickly but the veins would disappear as a tiny dark shadow within moved about the empty space in the egg. 

From April third on, Azul and Antoinette’s behavior changed. Antoinette incubated her eggs, spending all of her time in the nest box except when she came out to be fed by Azul. This process would continue after the eggs hatched until the babies were almost fully grown. Only then did Azul start interacting or feeding the new hatchlings. 

When the eggs started hatching, they were so small and their first few days are so crucial. Unfortunately, two of the hatchlings died due to a combination of the following factors, this being the first clutch Antoinette has laid, the quick development of the babies and the amount of time between them hatching.

Apple Jack, was what this bird was named but within 24 hours he was crushed and never fed by Antoinette, leading to death. It was very sad but with such small fragile life, death can come easily. The second hatchling to die was named Fighter. Daniel and I believed that he would fight and make it because for the first few hours he was kicking and moving around the other now pretty large babies. His crop was still empty the next morning so I rushed to go get hand feeding formula but it was too late. 

Parakeets do not have eyes when they first hatch. This photo above was takingwithin two days of Apple Jack hatching. Though difficult to loose this precious little life, it did allow me to photograph the body, showing the development process of baby parakeets. 

Almost 2 weeks after the first eggs were laid and incubated, they started to hatch. This was what Daniel Clark and I had been waiting for. We had the idea of breeding our birds for a few years and now we had two innocent, tiny pink parakeet hatchlings. A third bird hatched the next day and these 3 baby parakeets would be the only ones to hatch and live. 

It is amazing to me how small and delicate they are for the first few days of their lives. The sound of their soft quiet chirps was thrilling. It was love at first sight. We allowed them to have space in this critical stage, allowing Antoinette to care for them with as little interruption as possible. She would get scared if the nesting box was opened when she was inside so when she entered the cage to be feed was our only opportunity to check out our babies.

The most fascinating part of this experience was seeing how the birds develop. From being born with no eye sight, helplessly hoping to be feed to tripling in size in a matter of a week or two. When the birds got their down feathers, the white fuzzy ones, they became so cute. Before we new it colored pin feathers started to come in. 

Now we could start telling them apart and had a idea of what colors they were going to be. I really wanted one of the babies to have blue feathers, which is why we chose Azul. In the wild parakeets are mostly green, so they may blend into the habitat. Variations in color are only due to humans choosing to breed birds with color mutations. Daniel and I got lucky because one of the hatchlings did get blue feathers. 

The whole goal of breeding our own birds was to have birds that were tame to humans. In our experience, all the parakeets we have got from pet stores have been very scared of humans. We wanted our hatchlings to grow up with us, learning to trust as an early age. When Daniel and I held the birds like in the image above, they would crawl around on their bellies since they were not strong enough to stand up on their feet yet. 

As each day passed, more feathers began to grow in. The pin feathers in the wings were especially interesting. We could tell which one of the three was hatched a day later because it’s wing and tall feathers were visible different. This was my first time seeing feathers grow. 

Having only lived in a dark box, the babies loved to be covered or snuggle under anything when they were out. We would hold them on the couch, three little birds crawling around. They often dug their heads into our arms, pockets, and even hair. As they got stronger, they would crawl up my shoulders and scurry into my long, curly hair and stay there. One night I even cooked dinner with all three birds nestled inside my hair. It made me so happy to have them trust me so much.

As the birds got older and closer to becoming independent of Antoinette and Azul, they got more curious. I would have all three out on my bed, be petting one and see some flash go by. Next thing I know, one of the babies has crawled down the crack of my bed, stuck between the wall and mattress. I got it out and placed him in the middle with the others but then another bird has gone down the crack in the opposite direction! No bird ever got lost or hurt so it was all just curious and playful fun.

Holding the birds was the best part. Then one day, one of them looks at me funny. Parakeets are very smart and when they look at you, you can sometimes read their thought process. Well this time the bird gave me a look, then jumped and fluttered its wings, landing on top of my head! First flight attempt has been recorded. from then on, the game had changed. 

 

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